Michigan attorney general urges Supreme Court to protect access to medication abortion 

Photo Illustration/Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

By Kyle Kaminski

February 6, 2024

A lawsuit filed by anti-abortion groups could disrupt access to the most common form of abortion—even in Michigan, where reproductive rights are constitutionally protected. 

MICHIGAN—Attorney General Dana Nessel and attorneys general from 23 other states filed a brief with the US Supreme Court last week, urging it to reject a ruling from a lower court that would restrict access to the nation’s most commonly prescribed form of abortion medication.

It’s shaping up to be the biggest legal battle over reproductive healthcare since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade—and Nessel isn’t letting Michigan go down without a fight. 

Here’s the deal:

In 2022, just a few months after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe and the constitutional right to abortion care, several anti-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit that sought to limit access to mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortions.

Mifepristone is a prescription drug approved through 10 weeks of pregnancy and—along with a second drug called misoprostol—is used in more than half of abortions nationwide.

Last year, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a key ruling in the case that effectively reinstated some old federal restrictions on mifepristone—limiting access to the drug by prohibiting it from being used after seven weeks of pregnancy, being sent through the mail, or being prescribed via telemedicine.

That ruling was appealed to the US Supreme Court, which temporarily halted the lower court’s restrictions last spring and ultimately agreed to take up the case in December. The same nine judges that overturned Roe will now have the final say in the matter, with oral arguments set to begin on March 26 and a decision likely to arrive by the summer.

For now, access to both mifepristone and misoprostol remains unchanged and it’s still available in states (like Michigan) where abortion is legal. And a supplemental brief filed in the case this week by Nessel and attorneys general from 23 other states aims to keep it that way—for good.

What’s at stake?

If access to mifepristone is restricted, doctors would be forced to prescribe just misoprostol, the second drug in the two-drug regimen, which is less effective when prescribed alone.

Nessel has argued that any decision to curtail access to abortion medication would ignore decades of evidence and clinical trials that show mifepristone is safe and effective. 

The lower court’s ruling to reinstate restrictions was based on misleading claims about the safety of the drug—and would have a disproportionate impact on low-income and underserved communities that face challenges in accessing health care, the attorneys general said.

“When the US Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs, they remanded decisions about abortion access back to the states,” Nessel said. “This is just one of the many attempts by anti-choice activists to restrict safe abortion care, even in states that upheld reproductive rights.”

The brief filed last week argues that the restricted access to medication abortion would also cause undue harm in rural areas, where women die more often in childbirth and where there aren’t many clinics that offer surgical abortion procedures—like much of Northern Michigan.

For Michiganders in those areas, abortion medication can be their only viable method. 

Nessel has also said the restrictions—if left to stand—would lead more Michiganders to undergo procedural abortion, push abortion procedures to later in pregnancy, drive up risks, costs, and delays, as well as deprive many Michiganders of access to reproductive healthcare altogether. 

Limiting access to the drug would also create widespread confusion among providers, distributors, and pharmacies—ultimately destabilizing the regulatory process for drug approvals, stifling innovation, and slowing the development of other drugs, the attorneys general argued. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about medication abortion in Michigan

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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